Despite lacking the pressure of major league hockey, junior hockey is still tough, and no one probably had it tougher than Flames prospect D’Artagnan Joly in 2018-19.
His season saw him take a step backwards, mostly due to two trades and his coaching staff publicly taking issue with him. It was a rough and unfortunate affair that loomed large over his entire season.
What does it mean for his future with the Flames?
When we last checked in
Joly was a bit of a mystery to begin the 2017-18 season. Injuries prevented him from attending development camp and the YoungStars tournament, and also took away the first few weeks of his season. It wasn’t a great start to the year, to say the least, and Joly began the year as a mostly unknown quantity.
But suddenly yet quietly, Joly was rising to the top of the QMJHL. He became the heartbeat of Baie-Comeau’s offence, leading the team in many statistical categories, and contributing on nearly 35% of all Drakkar goals. Nothing about his season was superficial either, as Joly was a primary points machine. His boxcar numbers weren’t that impressive, but on a Drakkar team that limped into the playoffs (16 of 18 QMJHL teams make the playoffs. Baie-Comeau was the 13 seed), he was the most important player. With his 6’3″ frame, he seemed to be taking the right steps to being a power forward.
It was reasonable to expect that Joly would explode for the Drakkar, who were expected to break out of the dregs of the QMJHL and become one of the league’s legit contenders. If the rest of the team was going to take a step forward, Joly would be the one leading the way.
The Drakkar did reach new highs this year. However, Joly was not a part of the ride.
On ice, his season began well enough. Joly picking up points regularly with a few hiccups in consistency. Off ice, things were a disaster. Joly was healthy scratched, demoted, and publicly called out by his coach. Neither party saw eye to eye (which is putting things lightly), with the coaching staff demanding more but Joly feeling that he was being scapegoated for team-wide failures. Things eventually reached a breaking point, and Joly chose to leave the team to force a trade. Before the Christmas break, he was sent to the Victoriaville Tigres.
He didn’t play a single game for Victoriaville before being flipped to the Rimouski Oceanic, joining up with fellow Flames prospect Dmitry Zavgorodniy. In Rimouski, he sacrificed the spotlight for a stable situation, playing third and fourth line minutes on a stacked Oceanic team.
Numbers & growth
|GP||G||A||P||5v5 points||primary points||5v5 primary points||NHLe||estimated TOI|
Obviously, there’s a bit of a drop off, but Joly did a lot of the same things right. He scored a lot at 5v5, and was also more often than not a primary contributor of offence. He was mostly consistent with game by game scoring, but the volume of scoring is lacking.
Let’s look at time on ice to get a better picture of Joly, as his season is really defined by his usage. In 2017-18, Joly was one of Baie-Comeau’s most used players, leading the team in estimated time on ice at both 5v5 and at all situations. He dropped nearly four minutes for the whole season, slipping down to seventh among Drakkar forwards for eTOI. In Rimouski, he saw even less ice, sitting tenth among Oceanic forwards. His estimated per 60 metrics didn’t take a major hit, as illustrated below:
|estimated p/60||e p1/60||5v5 e p/60||5v5 e p1/60|
There are some promising things and some concerns. The promising thing is that, despite what was said about him by his coaches in Baie-Comeau, his scoring rates remained relatively steady despite the treatment he received. The major issue is the drop in primary points per 60, at both 5v5 and all situations. His 2017-18 season was near elite numbers for the league, but he dropped to pedestrian levels this season.
I think part of that can be attributed to who he was playing with. His flip to Rimouski may have not done him many favours. Playing with lower quality teammates impacted his on-ice results, which may be the reason for some of his numbers dipping. Joly only managed an 8.2 SH% at Rimouski, nearly half of the 15% he saw at Baie-Comeau the past two years, despite taking more shots with the Oceanic. He spent a lot of time in their bottom six, playing alongside players like Ludovics Soucy (nine points this season), Nathan Ouelette (11 points), Anthony Gagnon (42 points), and Carson Mackinnon (46 points).
Joly was victim to his circumstances. He was obviously better than the fourth line spot he so often occupied, but it does also open up the question of why he could never hold down a top six spot.
Last year when we looked at Joly, he had some odd but intriguing results. Very few players who put up similar numbers as he did in 2017-18 went on to NHL success, but the ones that did ended up being great players, contributing 0.5 PPG and above at the NHL level. Joly was still a bit of a long shot, especially so given his career history, but if he panned out he could be a great find for the Flames.
This past year puts that assessment in doubt. There are 130 QMJHL players who had similar seasons to Joly since 1998-99, and only two of them managed to make the NHL in a serious capacity: Maxim Lapierre and Evgeni Artukhin. That’s 1.5%, which are incredibly long odds for Joly. The recent example of Frederik Gauthier does bring a bit of hope in, but the quality also takes a drop off. All of these players became fourth line options for their NHL clubs, which takes away the high upside factor that made Joly so intriguing the year before.
Needless to say, it’s a complete reversal of his previous season’s results. Joly was intriguing because he could become a middle six option, even if the odds were stacked against him. The context of his 2018-19 season matters, of course, but it’s foolhardy to judge a player by what you thought they were capable of doing over what they actually did. Based on what he actually did this season, there’s almost no chance Joly becomes an NHLer.
The Flames hold Joly’s rights until June 1. Given how his season went, it’s unlikely the Flames choose to sign him.
Part of that is fair. There’s a limited number of contract spots available and it’s hard to justify handing one to a player who has only had one season where he looked promising. The off-ice drama also likely plays into this, as teams don’t want players who can be combative unless their on-ice play can justify putting up with them.
But the majority of that hypothetical decision would be unfair. Again, the circumstances of Joly’s 2018-19 season must be taken into consideration. Given that there’s nearly no other RW prospect depth (it’s currently Matthew Phillips and Mathias Emilio Pettersen, who is unsigned), why not take a chance on a RW who could almost certainly benefit from a stable environment that the Flames have control over? It would be a bit ridiculous to give a pro opportunity to fellow 2017 draftee Zach Fischer, someone who was clearly not destined for pro success, and deny one to Joly.
I also think it’s wrong to punish Joly for how he handled the situation at Baie-Comeau. Junior players have almost no leverage or control over unprecedented predicaments like Joly found himself in, and he did what he had to do to try and be successful. The kid had to fight for his career and received no support from the people whose jobs involved him reaching that goal.
I personally think the Flames should sign him, if for no other reason than he’s a sixth round pick. There’s low expectations from the get-go and there is potential upside at a position where the Flames have struggled to develop talent. There’s no risk involved, and the worst case scenario is that he doesn’t pan out, which is fine. It’s doubtful that he will be signed, (Rimouski’s playoffs have ended and no word yet. Adam Ruzicka was signed a day after his playoffs ended), but I think he should be. If he can bounce back to 2017-18 Joly, there’s a chance he becomes something at the NHL level. We can’t know that unless he gets a chance.